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Technology at work; standard software sets the pace.

As I walked into one of the new computer superstores the other day, I was overwhelmed by the variety of products on the shelves. It's one thing to see these products in a magazine advertisement, but quite another to see them all together--aisle after aisle, neatly stacked in their colorful, inviting packaging. The experience led me to a profound thought: There is a fine line between bounty and chaos. When it comes to PC software, I believe we have crossed the line.

Computer veterans are even overwhelmed by the assortment of software. To the new user, this abundance must be confusing, if not intimidating.

To quell some of the chaos, we look for consistency in software packages--often referred to in the industry as standards. Hang around computer users and you'll hear that word a lot. Computer people sometimes are obsessed with standards. Not because we're nitpickers who want to control everyone's PC, but because it's a Tower of Babble out there. The great paradox: We want integration of programs, but we also want to control and customize what's on our own PC, which disrupts standardization.

But just because a software package is a standard doesn't mean it is the best, nor does it mean it is right for your organization. But knowing what is standard gives you a starting point. Here are what many consider to be standards for IBM PCs and their clones in their respective software category.

* Operating system. This is the software that makes your computer work. MS-DOS--Microsoft Disk System--is the standard operating system. PCs and clones have always used this operating system (MS-DOS and PC-DOS are virtually the same). The most recent release, 5.0, is a real improvement over its predecessor, 4.0 DOS 4.0--a good illustration of a standard product that wasn't the best product--was known as a resource hog because it took up more computer memory than its predecessor and provided less features. Thus, many people just skipped DOS 4.0 and waited for 5.0. The Windows operating system, also a Microsoft product, is coming on strong as a standard (arguably, there can be more than one standard).

There are two features that set Windows and MS-DOS and PC-DOS apart: Graphics such as icons, arrows, and so forth tell the user how to use the system and users can run multiple programs at one time.

* Word processor. These systems turn your PC into a super typewriter. They allow entry, modification, and printing of text. WordPerfect is accepted almost universally as the standard word processor. WordPerfect--now in release 5.1--is a software standard that also consistently gets high ratings. In the Windows environment, however, Microsoft Word is generally accepted as the standard. WordPerfect released its Windows product in 1991, and now the stage is set for a battle.

* Spreadsheet. These versatile products are the electronic version of the old accountant's columnar pads. Lotus 1-2-3, considered the standard, is so secure in this position that other spreadsheets as well as some data base products read and write files in Lotus format. Microsoft's Excel is giving Lotus a run for its money, especially in the Windows arena, where Excel may have an edge as the standard.

* Data base. Dbase, a data base product sold by Ashton-Tate, Inc., was considered for many years the data base standard. After the release of the long-awaited and somewhat disappointing dBase IV, dBase began to slip as the data base standard while Borland's Paradox, by some analyst's estimation, emerged as the new standard, or co-standard.

Then, to make things interesting, Borland bought dBase. Now speculation runs from predictions that Borland will do away with dBase to predictions that it will enhance it. In the interim, Paradox remains strong and holds the edge.

However, many other data base products read and write files in dBase format. The Windows standard remains uncertain, as most companieis are just releasing their Windows products. Finally, you may hear about a data base product called SQL--Structured Query Language--an emerging product on local area networks. Most data base products, including dBase and Paradox, incorporate SQL.

There are only guidelines. And besides, ask 10 people what the standard word processor, spreadsheet, or data base is and you may get 10 different answers.

Or some may tell you what the standard is, but proceed to tell you how much better another product is. And many of these products find a niche by outperforming the standards. Still, for products to be considered standards, they must have something going for the. They work. Or at least a plurality of users believe they do.

So when you shop for software, know what the standard products are. If these products work for so many others, they may work for you.

Stevel L Harrison is vice president of information systems at Electronic Realty Associates, Overland Park, Kansas.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Harrison, Steven L.
Publication:Association Management
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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